So why is Internet pornography so hard to control?

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The Independent Online

Q How prevalent is child pornography on the internet?

Q How prevalent is child pornography on the internet?

A It is estimated that more than 27,000 people access child pornography sites every day. The number of sites is anyone's guess, but the number of pictures runs into millions. One recent study suggested that half of all non-academic searches on the internet are for pornography. Child pornography is a tiny, but worrying, fraction of that.

Q Why can't internet companies refuse child porn sites?

A Often the "sites" are one person's computer, connected to the internet from home via an internet provider who cannot know what is there. The sheer number of home pages being created and changed every day makes it impossible for providers to know precisely what is there.

Q Why can't the law deal more effectively with pornography on the internet?

A If you bring a magazine with pictures that are legal in Holland but obscene in Britain to Dover, the police can arrest you. If you access the magazine's website in Holland from Dover, the police may never know.

Q What counts as child pornography in Britain?

A Under the Child Protection Act of 1978, amended in the 1994 Criminal Justice Act to cover images scanned into computers or downloaded from the internet, it is illegal to possess indecent photographs of children under 16 years old. "Possession" includes having the image in a computer-readable format - such as on your hard disk.

Q Are all pornographic images of children on the net "real"?

A No: some are "pseudo-photographs" created by electronic montages, such as putting the face of a child on the body of an adult. This is still illegal both in Britain and the US.

Q Is anyone trying to stop this material being on the net?

A Yes, but Scotland Yard's paedophilia unit has only two staff. Most help comes from cyber-vigilante groups. US-based "Cyberangels" has an international division with nearly 40 members in the UK who report suspicious sites. There's also Ethical Hackers Against Paedophilia and the Internet Watch Foundation, which was set up by the Home Office, DTI, police and internet providers. It runs a hotline for anyone to report potentially illegal material.

Q Do people report?

A Since the UK's Internet Watch Foundation started, 2,200 sites have been reported to it. Almost all are outside the UK, though, so prosecutions have been rare.

Q What else is being done?

A A team at University College, Cork, has started constructing the world's first database of child pornography to enable police around Europe to identify victims and perpetrators.

Q How can I stop my children straying near these sites?

A Commercial "censorware" programs (SurfWatch, NetNanny, CyberPatrol) will block access. They cost around £40 and allow you to monitor what your children watch. But all have flaws: NetNanny uses a keyword system, so searches for "Essex", "Takeshita" and "Scunthorpe" would all fail. Cyber Patrol maintains a blacklist - but it is very American in its dislikes (especially in religion), and new porn sites pop up every day.

Q What works the best?

A Be a parent: talk to your child about what is out there, and answer questions truthfully. Emphasise that they should not give out personal details online. Keep the computer in a shared room, and see if there is a program to monitor, rather than block, what your child views. Above all, remember that you are trying to nurture an adult - not preserve a child.

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